Mizoram, which goes to Assembly polls on 28 November, is the last remaining bastion of the Congress party in the Northeast. The grand old party, which once used to have a hegemony in the region, has lost one after other states to the BJP and its allies. Congress has been in power in Mizoram for the last 10 years. In the history of Mizoram, no party has returned to power for a third consecutive term. This is the reason that the state has become a symbol of existence for the Congress, which is battling 10 years’ anti-incumbency, in the northeast and definitely has no other options but to retain it.
The Congress, led by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, is riding on development and welfare schemes initiated by it as the party looks for a third term. The party is banking on its flagship scheme, New Land Use Policy (NLUP), which was started in 2008. The scheme provides Rs 1 lakh in installments to families of farmers, small businessmen and small industrialists. According to reports, around 76% of the households of the state benefited from NLUP.
However, the election is not easy for the party this time. The power in the state, traditionally, oscillates between the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF). Led by former Chief Minister Zoramthanga, MNF is determined to overthrowing the Congress government relying on anti-incumbency, besides focussing on poor infrastructure and the lifting of ban on liquor by the Congress government.
Lifting of the liquor ban has become an important issue in the election season. Lal Thanhawla’s government lifted the 18 years old ban despite strong reservations from the Church. It is to be noted that the Church always has a say in the politics of the state where 87 per cent of the population are Christians. So, this will definitely be a factor and the MNF is trying to channelise this discontent into votes against the Congress by promising to reimpose the ban if voted to power. During the last elections, Congress won 34 seats with 44.6% votes while the MNF got only 5 seats with 28.7% votes and both are fighting on all 40 seats.
The Zoram People’s Movement, which comprises the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) and the Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC), is contesting on 35 seats. BJP, which has never won a seat, is contesting on all the seats and is definitely trying hard to open its account in the state. The party is concentrating on the five minority constituencies of Mamit, Hachhek, Thorang, West Tuipui and Tuichawng that are largely dominated by the Chakmas — who practise Theravada Buddhism — and the Brus or the Reangs who are largely Vaishnavite Hindus and animists, a few being Christians.
Brus are presently living in six refugee camps in North Tripura and for the last elections have been exercising their voting rights from refugee camps of Tripura. However, due to protests by the NGOs and the Church backed by the Congress, the Election Commission has this time decided to install polling stations in Kanhmun village in Mamit district of Mizoram, which is neighbour to Tripura, as it wouldn’t be possible for the Brus to travel to their respective constituencies. There are more than 11000 Bru voters who are distributed in 10 constituencies of the state who form a majority in Mamit and Hachek and have a say in Thorang. It is expected that Brus would be voting for the BJP which may help the saffron party to open its account in the state.
However, the BJP, though a low player earlier, has been the focus of the campaigning of both the Congress and the MNF. Both the parties are accusing each other to have a secret pact with the saffron party as both try to portray that the BJP with its “Hindutva” agenda has no space in a Christian dominated state. Congress is distributing leaflets containing pictures of Zoramthanga and BJP chief Amit Shah sitting together while MNF is underlining the post-poll alliance of Congress and BJP in the Chakma Autonomous District Council in April. However, Congress had to pull the plug from the alliance only in October to pursue the Christian card in the state elections. On the other hand, Zoramthanga maintains that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a good leader — means MNF is open for a post-poll alliance with the BJP. It is to be noted that both MNF and ZNP are the members of the North East Democratic Alliance, a conglomerate of non-Congress parties led by the BJP.
Whether there is a wind of change blowing in Mizoram is difficult to say, but the Congress’ strategy of focussing BJP’s relation with the MNF points that the party is facing the heat of anti-incumbency. It is already jolted by desertion of some of its key leaders to the opposition camps and is now desperately trying the Christian card to win the elections for a third consecutive term.